Post last updated: August 13th, 2018
I have long been fascinated with succulents and purchased a plant or two over the years. This year I discovered in a gardening catalog that I could grow succulents from seed. Wellllll … there is just nothing to compare with growing something from seed (“Oh look at my babies!”).
I ordered two packets. A sempervivum blend (seeds originating in Germany) and a rare succulent mix (seeds originating in South Africa). I didn’t exactly follow the planting directions on the back of the packet. Instead, I followed the directions in a book on succulents. Sort of. I was also influenced by something Stone the Gardener said on his blog about not giving seeds “a good Christian burial.” I didn’t want to be guilty of that since the South African seed packet was stamped, “Look closely. Seed size is variable, some dust-like.” A dust-sized seed would never be able to claw its way up from six feet under. But just how big is dust, anyway? Like a grain of sand or the dust bunnies under the bed? I don’t remember seeing any dust-like seeds. I probably got gypped. All I saw was something brown in a paper-like wrapper resembling a microscopic tea bag.
I planted both packets of seed in a green ceramic planter 7.5 inches long by 4.75 inches wide. The sempervivum seeds came up in four days like the proverbial fleas on a dog’s back. Alarmed, I returned to the seed packet. Three hundred seeds. Good heavens to mergatroyd, I wished I had seen that before planting all the seeds in such a small planter but I tend to refer to the directions only after “all else fails.” I can hear Evie now, “You so stoopit!” She always gets this look on her face, too, like she’s having trouble believing I have actually gotten even more stupid.
A week later, the twenty-five rare succulent seeds from South Africa had steadfastly refused to sprout, assuming that they were not going to resemble the two-leafed plants which were the size of a pin head on an old-fashioned straight pin. Consulting the seed packet, I found in the small print that germination could vary from a few days to a year. Really? A year? Notice how seed catalogs, whether in print or online, never provide the nitty gritty details? The stuff you need to know before making a purchasing decision? What we get are wild promises far removed from truth. According to the seed company, the South African rare succulents were “so pretty and easy to grow.”
I am reminded of the radicchio seeds I ordered from yet another seed company for my 2011 winter garden. They promised the seeds were a popular variety from an old Italian fishing village. The popular variety of radicchio, in case you’ve never seen it, should look like a head of red cabbage with white streaks coming up from the base. It should feel slightly leathery. What came up in my garden was a green leafed mutant “lettuce” with red spots that wasn’t quite leathery or crisp and it wouldn’t form a head. I was afraid to eat it because it didn’t look like anything I had ever seen. Seed companies are such prolific fiction writers you have to wonder why they don’t write novels.
Further inspection of the fine print on the rare succulent seed packet admonished that I was to have given these very special seeds a goldfish burial of two inches and water from the bottom. Oops. Having done everything wrong, my money is probably just gone on the South Africans. I’ll have to settle for the three hundred fleas.